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Arnold Rothstein
born in 1882 on East 47th Street in Manhattan
died November 6th, 1928, New York’s Polyclinic Hospital

Known by many names – A. R., Mr. Big, The Fixer, The Big Bankroll, The Man Uptown, and The Brain - Arnold Rothstein seemed more myth than man. He was the inspiration for Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. He was rumored to be the mastermind of the “Black Sox” scandal, the fixing of the 1919 World Series. Arnold Rothstein was gambling, and Arnold Rothstein was money. He was Mr. Broadway and had his own booth at Lindy’s restaurant in Manhattan where he held court.

From The Big Bank Roll, biography of Rothstein: "The cigar salesman made a good living. He lived frugally, did not dissipate. Each week the roll in his pocket grew a little thicker. He knew he could never attain his ultimate aim by simple economies, but these could start him on his way. He didn’t like long range projects. He was essentially a short-term, quick-turnover man."

“Rothstein pursued a fixed course. He worked at selling cigars until he accumulated $2,000. He decided that this was sufficient to base an entry into gambling as a profession. He quit his salesman’s job. He would never again work for anyone else. All the rest of his life, no matter what else he might be, he would always be a professional gambler.”

With “Big Tim” Sullivan’s backing, in 1902 Rothstein began working on his own. He booked bets on baseball games, elections, horse races and prizefights. In addition, he gambled on his own – shooting craps, playing pool and participating in poker games. Rothstein had a simple philosophy, “Look out for Number One. If you don’t, no one else will. If a man is dumb, someone is going to get the best of him, so why not you? If you don’t, you’re as dumb as he is.”

Rothstein had promised his new wife Carolyn that after he made a lot of money he would retire from being a gambler. Rothstein was comfortable discussing his philosophy of gambling with his wife, but never the actual mechanics, and certainly not the people he interacted with. At Saratoga he pawned all of the expensive jewelry he had given Carolyn to obtain cash. This was more lucrative than borrowing the money at a higher interest rate. By the end of the honeymoon, which coincidentally coincided with the end of race season at Saratoga, Rothstein had won $12,000 and got Carolyn’s jewelry out of hock.

Returning to New York, Rothstein decided to open his own gambling house. He rented two brownstones on West 46th Street and he and Carolyn took up residence in one, while the other was outfitted with roulette wheels, faro and poker tables. Rothstein then went to “Big Tim” Sullivan to discuss “protection.” Sullivan, an Irishman who believed in marriage and large families, was delighted that his protégé had wed. His wedding gift to Rothstein was protection.

By 1914 Rothstein was already on his way to becoming the go-to-guy for lay-off betting in the bookmaking business. Since its early years, America has had a love affair with horse racing – and betting on horse races. As placing wagers on the sport became more popular, especially in the country’s larger cities, the art of bookmaking, also known then as pool operating, became popular too. It was not until Rothstein came along to organize the various bookmakers that it became a huge money making venture. By the mid-teens Rothstein’s ever-growing bankroll allowed him to set the terms for what became known as the lay-off bet. This is the process of evening out a bookie’s slate when one horse has so much money riding on it that the results can break the bookie’s bank. He simply bet’s the other way with someone with enough money to handle the bet and the two split the winning percentage from the bets placed.

Rothstein was soon known from coast to coast as the man who could handle any lay-off bet. Assembling a loyal group of men who worked around the clock for their master, Rothstein’s ability to take care of this type of betting would last until his death.

Meanwhile, as the country moved through the 1910s, Rothstein’s gambling contemporaries in New York fell by the wayside. Having one of the few reputable gambling houses in the city Rothstein decided to close up shop because it had become too well known. In 1916 he opened a new casino in Hewlett, Long Island where the cost of “protection” was not nearly as high as in Manhattan. Both the building and the land the gambling house occupied were owned by a state senator who was recognized as a major political figure in the area. The casino was lavishly furnished and provided the gamblers, who arrived by invitation only, with the best in food and drink. All of the casino’s employees were required to dress in appropriate eveningwear.

Rothstein took advantage of what he termed “snob appeal” for his gambling den. “People like to think they’re better than other people,” Rothstein once told Damon Runyon. “As long as they’re willing to pay to prove it, I’m willing to let them.” For three years he allowed them to “pay,” to the tune of $500,000 in profits, before he closed the club in 1919 after the local authorities became greedy.
Three events took place in Rothstein’s life that became legendary and created a reputation for the gambler that certainly preceded him and made him the talk of New York.
The first incident occurred in 1917. August Belmont owned a horse named Hourless, whose trainer, Sam Hildreth, was considered one of the best in the country. During the 1917 racing season Hourless lost in a three-horse race to that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Omar Khayyam. Hildreth knew he had been outsmarted by Hourless’ rider, a dishonest jockey who dropped his whip during the race. When the New York season was over an enterprising track owner agreed to put up a purse for a grudge match between the two horses. On October 17, the day before the race, Rothstein decided to bet $240,000 on Hourless, but could not find anyone willing to handle a wager that large. Later that day, Rothstein received a telephone call and was informed whatever bet he was willing to place there was a man who would accept it – no limit.

Rothstein knew immediately that there must be a fix. He called Hildreth and voiced his concern regarding the sudden change of heart of the bookmakers to take his bet. If there was going to be a sucker in this race, it was not going to be Arnold Rothstein. At the last minute Hildreth changed jockeys and Hourless won convincingly. Rothstein pocketed a cool $300,000.

This bet was the largest Rothstein had won up until this time and he would exceed it twice in 1921. The first bet occurred on July 4. Independence Day was the second of the three big racing days that took place at the New York horse racing tracks (the other two being Memorial Day and Labor Day). On this holiday Rothstein was betting on his own horse, Sidereal.

Sidereal’s entrance in the day’s third race was a last minute decision by Rothstein. In fact, the horse was stabled at Belmont Park and the race was being run at Aqueduct. Rothstein sent Carolyn to fetch the horse while he maneuvered around the busy track drumming up business and, at the same time, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible so not to tip his hand. Rothstein “borrowed” as many as forty trackmen to do his bidding in placing bets on Sidereal. By the time the horse arrived at the track the paddock judge told the trainer he had beaten the deadline by a mere six seconds. Sidereal won the race and Rothstein earned the incredible amount of $850,000.

Weeks later, on August 20, Rothstein won $500,000 by betting on another of his horses, Sporting Blood, in the Travers Stakes. Rothstein had received some quality information about problems the favored horse was experiencing. He was quick to take advantage of the information – for which he always rewarded the provider well.

Arnold Rothstein’s “fixing” of the 1919 World Series (Baseball) is the American underworld’s most popular myth. The reality is, however, different. Rothstein’s name, his reputation, and his reputed wealth were all used to influence the crooked baseball players. But Rothstein, knowing this, kept apart from the actual fix. He just let it happen.”
 Last Hours of Mr. Big
That was the message recorded at 10:53 p.m. on Sunday, November 4, 1928 by a desk sergeant in Manhattan’s West 47th Street station. By midnight, the information had been updated to show that Arnold Rothstein, 46 years old of 912 Fifth Avenue had been shot in the abdomen and found near the employee’s entrance of the Park Central Hotel.

Earlier that evening, Rothstein arrived at Lindy’s restaurant on Seventh Avenue and went to his private booth. Lindy’s was Rothstein’s office. He kept a regular schedule there and several men were already waiting to see him when he walked in that night. One of the men, Jimmy Meehan, ran the Park City Club, one of the city’s biggest gambling dens during the 1920s. Meehan operated the plush club with a bankroll supplied by Rothstein.

About 10:15, Rothstein received a telephone call. After a short conversation he hung up and motioned for Meehan to walk outside with him. “McManus wants to see me at the Park Central,” Rothstein said. He then pulled a gun out of his pocket and handed it to Meehan saying, “Keep this for me, I will be right back.” Meehan then watched Rothstein walk up Seventh Avenue.

The man who had requested Rothstein’s presence at the hotel was George McManus. A bookmaker and gambler, McManus was well connected in the city with one brother serving on the police force and another serving as a priest. Several weeks earlier, McManus had hosted a high-stakes poker game in which Rothstein had participated. The game began on September 8th and continued into the morning of September 10th. Other players participating in the game were West Coast gambler Nate Raymond, Alvin “Titanic” Thompson, and Joe Bernstein. By the end of the marathon card game, Rothstein was a big loser. He owed Raymond $219,000, Bernstein $73,000, and Thompson $30,000. When Rothstein walked out, without so much as signing an IOU, a couple of the players became irritated. McManus assured the pair, “That’s A. R. Hell, he’s good for it. He’ll be calling you in a couple of days.”

A week passed and Rothstein had still not made good. Rumors began to circulate that the game was crooked. Rothstein confided to Nicky Arnstein, who by now was out of prison and back in New York, “A couple of people told me that the game was rigged.” Arnstein’s advice to Rothstein was to pay the players off, “no point to your advertising you were a sucker.”

Rothstein held off paying his debt though, hoping to make the gamblers sweat and maybe take a lesser payoff. The players however were beginning to pressure McManus since he was the host and had promised them that Rothstein would make good. McManus sought help from his friend Jimmy Hines of Tammany Hall. Hines, who was also a friend of Rothstein, began to pressure him to clear up the matter.

As the weeks passed, the pressure began to get to McManus who began drinking and threatened Rothstein for not making good on the debts. On Sunday night November 4, McManus called Rothstein from room 349 in the Park Central Hotel where he was registered as George Richards. He requested that Rothstein come over right away.

The conversation and events that took place after Rothstein arrived are still a mystery. Shortly after Rothstein entered room 349, he was shot once in the lower abdomen. The revolver was then tossed out the window where it bounced off the hood of a parked taxi and landed in the street. Employees later found Rothstein walking down the service stairs, holding his stomach and asking for a cab to take him home.

Late on Monday afternoon, his wife Carolyn was permitted to see him. He requested to go home and told her, “Don’t go away. I don’t want to be alone. I can’t stand being alone.” As he tried to raise himself he fell back and into unconsciousness. Rothstein would not regain consciousness and died the following morning at approximately 10:20, Election Day, November 6th, 1928.

Rothstein had bet heavily on the election that year. Had he lived, he would have collected $570,000. His death negated the wagers. In the Jewish tradition, Rothstein was buried the following day in Union Field Cemetery in Queens. Inside the closed casket he was dressed in a white skullcap with a purple-striped prayer shawl over a muslin shroud.
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